A structurally engineered fatty acid, icosabutate, suppresses liver inflammation and fibrosis in NASH

J Hepatol. 2022 Apr;76(4):800-811. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2021.12.004. Epub 2021 Dec 13.


Background & aims: Although long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (LCn-3FAs) regulate inflammatory pathways of relevance to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), their susceptibility to peroxidation may limit their therapeutic potential. We compared the metabolism of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) with an engineered EPA derivative (icosabutate) in human hepatocytes in vitro and their effects on hepatic glutathione metabolism, oxidised lipids, inflammation, and fibrosis in a dietary mouse model of NASH, and in patients prone to fatty liver disease.

Methods: Oxidation rates and cellular partitioning of EPA and icosabutate were compared in primary human hepatocytes. Comparative effects of delayed treatment with either low- (56 mg/kg) or high-dose (112 mg/kg) icosabutate were compared with EPA (91 mg/kg) or a glucagon-like peptide 1 receptor agonist in a choline-deficient (CD), L-amino acid-defined NASH mouse model. To assess the translational potential of these findings, effects on elevated liver enzymes and fibrosis-4 (FIB-4) score were assessed in overweight, hyperlipidaemic patients at an increased risk of NASH.

Results: In contrast to EPA, icosabutate resisted oxidation and incorporation into hepatocytes. Icosabutate also reduced inflammation and fibrosis in conjunction with a reversal of CD diet-induced changes in the hepatic lipidome. EPA had minimal effect on any parameter and even worsened fibrosis in association with depletion of hepatic glutathione. In dyslipidaemic patients at risk of NASH, icosabutate rapidly normalised elevated plasma ALT, GGT and AST and reduced FIB-4 in patients with elevated ALT and/or AST.

Conclusion: Icosabutate does not accumulate in hepatocytes and confers beneficial effects on hepatic oxidative stress, inflammation and fibrosis in mice. In conjunction with reductions in markers of liver injury in hyperlipidaemic patients, these findings suggest that structural engineering of LCn-3FAs offers a novel approach for the treatment of NASH.

Lay summary: Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are involved in multiple pathways regulating hepatic inflammation and fibrosis, but their susceptibility to peroxidation and use as an energy source may limit their clinical efficacy. Herein, we show that a structurally modified omega-3 fatty acid, icosabutate, overcame these challenges and had markedly improved antifibrotic efficacy in a mouse model of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis. A hepatoprotective effect of icosabutate was also observed in patients with elevated circulating lipids, in whom it led to rapid reductions in markers of liver injury.

Keywords: ALT; FIB-4; antifibrotic; collagen; glutathione; icosabutate; omega-3 fatty acid; oxidative stress; steatohepatitis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Butyrates
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3*
  • Fibrosis
  • Glutathione / metabolism
  • Hepatitis* / pathology
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Liver / pathology
  • Liver Cirrhosis / complications
  • Liver Cirrhosis / etiology
  • Mice
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease* / complications
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease* / etiology


  • Biomarkers
  • Butyrates
  • Fatty Acids
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • icosabutate
  • Glutathione